Ceres native Bill Berryhill has held many titles throughout his life: California State Assemblyman, one-time Senate hopeful, and now, accomplished wine maker.
A third-generation grape grower, Berryhill always hoped to one day have his own wine label. He and his family accomplished that in 2016 with the launch of Berryhill Family Vineyards. The family farming operation released its first two white wines in 2017 — a chardonnay and a sauvignon blanc — and bottled reds for the first time last summer with the launch of merlots, zinfandels and cabernet sauvignons. This year, Berryhill plans on releasing his first rosé.
“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Berryhill said. “I’ve been in the wine business since I was 18, so I figured when I was getting close to 60 I had better get started because it takes time, energy and effort.”
Berryhill’s variety of award-winning wines have received accolades from organizations across the state, including gold medals for his two white wines at both the California State Fair and Orange County Fair, as well as recognition from national publications like Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Making the transition from politician to wine curator has been simple, he said, as vineyards are a much friendlier environment than the State Capitol. Berryhill served as the Assembly’s 26th District representative from 2008 to 2012, then was the Repulican nominee for the California State Senate before ultimately losing to Cathleen Galgiani in 2012.
“When I lost my 2012 Senate race it was like I got my life back. This is what I like to do,” Berryhill said. “In a lot of ways it’s similar to politics, but it’s easier to sell wine to people than it was myself. Now, I’m making a product that helps people deal with all the stuff that’s going on in Sacramento.”
As a longtime grape grower, Berryhill was always trained to try and continuously improve the quality of his fruit. Now, he’s taken that same philosophy into the winemaking industry. His vineyards practice sustainable growing practices, like the use of solar energy and ensuring habitat conservation, and Berryhill is involved in the process from beginning to end.
“I really get the best part of the job. I love growing grapes, and then I get to sit down with the winemaker and talk about the style of the wine,” he said.
Berryhill gives input on the flavors of the wine through numerous tastings, deciding when to add more oak or whether or not the drink is crisp enough.
“The winemaker told me we had a really nice chardonnay and that I could screw up a good wine with too much oak,” Berryhill said. “But, my gut told me it needed a little more oak. We put extra oak in there and it really turned out great.”
Berryhill Family Vineyards wine is typically sold for $12 to $20 per bottle and can be found in stores like Save Mart in Ceres, O’Brien’s Market in Modesto and Village Fresh Market in Turlock. Their wine can also be enjoyed in countless Valley restaurants such as Bistro 234, Angelina’s Spaghetti House, Alfonso’s Mexican Grill and Galletto Ristorante. Wine enthusiasts can even join the label’s wine club, which offers not only Berryhill Family Vineyards staples that have already been released, but exclusive varieties that aren’t available in stores or restaurants.
“The wine club really allows us to experiment with smaller case lots and gives us a sounding block of what really works with customers,” Berryhill said.
Wine club members receive 16 bottles of wine per year at a 20 percent discount; the bottles are shipped to members’ homes, or can be picked up at one of the label’s four annual “pickup parties” held on the Berryhill Pond — the family’s event venue in Ceres that hosts both wine events and charity fundraisers for local nonprofits regularly. While a majority of the grapes used in Berryhill Family Vineyards wine are grown at their ranch in Clements, the Berryhill Pond serves as a gathering place for wine lovers and parties can even schedule a private tasting if they’d like.
Both the wine club and low prices help Berryhill Family Vineyards reach more customers, sharing the family’s love for wine with the 209. It’s a dream realized for Berryhill, and he’s looking forward to the future.
“We wanted to produce high quality wines at every day drinking prices,” he said. “There’s not a lot of profit in that, but at the same time we’re trying to build our label and learn even more about what we’re doing.”
For more information about Berryhill Family Vineyards wine or hosting an event at the Berryhill Pond, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. An upcoming pickup party will be hosted at Berryhill Pond on Feb. 29 and the public is invited to attend.